Scholl Canyon Gas Leakage Clouds Future of Golf Course

Times Staff Writer

Glendale officials said the Scholl Canyon Golf and Tennis Complex may remain closed for weeks or months before studies reveal the cause and possible solution to explosive levels of leaking methane that forced the closure of the facility last week.

Some experts on landfills say the city was negligent in properly maintaining the landfill, and they warn that repairs may be so expensive and constant that the golf course may never be opened again.

But Glendale City Manager David H. Ramsay said Tuesday that the city has more than $5 million in reserves to correct problems and additional money can be raised, if necessary, to restore use of the nine-hole golf course and adjoining tennis complex. "While we are not thrilled about these problems, we are very happy to have the resources to deal with them," Ramsay said.

Even so, Mayor Carl Raggio admitted that the future of the sports complex is uncertain. "We don't know how much it is going to cost or the amount of time it will take to fix," he said. "We hope to have studies completed before Christmas."

Glendale officials last Thursday ordered the complex closed after tests by a private consultant found methane migrating into electrical vaults, sprinkling housings and sewer manholes at the golf course and leaks from fissures in the ground.

Other Facilities

The closure has forced scores of golfers and tennis players who use the Scholl Canyon complex to seek recreation at other area facilities. Ramsay said the city this week has asked officials at four nearby golf courses to allow special starting slots for the 180 members of Scholl's golf clubs. "We don't want anyone to lose their stroke because of this," Raggio said.

A gas collection and recovery system made up of 28 wells and more than 10,500 feet of pipeline was installed in Scholl Canyon in 1983 at a cost to the city of about $350,000, said W. E. Cameron, public service director. The methane was channeled to a $3-million power plant at the base of the landfill that converted it into electricity capable of serving 2,500 homes, about 1% of Glendale's customers, he said.

The power plant was shut down more than a year ago because toxic and smog-inducing emissions from the internal combustion engines at the plant exceed standards adopted in 1985 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The city has since used a flare system to burn off methane produced by the landfill, Cameron said.

City officials and consultants said they believe that the methane is leaking from the gas pipelines that have become broken or plugged as a result of movement and compaction within the landfill.

An engineer who designed the gas collection system at Scholl said the problems the city is now encountering should have been anticipated. Ron Lofy of Lockman and Associates of Monterey Park said the system, which is made up of a series of plastic pipes that collect and move the gas to a treatment area, was bound to deteriorate over a period of time.

Lofy said landfill movement, especially in deep canyons such as Scholl, "is very severe and traumatic on the piping system. One would expect the system to be in need of significant repair" after a period of years, he said.

May Not Be Salvageable

Lofy said much of the system at Scholl may not be salvageable. "They may have to re-drill the wells and replace the near-surface horizontal collector pipes," which he said could cost considerably more than the original installation cost.

Dick Mandeville of Mandeville and Associates of Pasadena, Glendale's consultant and a nationwide specialist in landfill emissions and control, said his firm is investigating the extent of damage at Scholl to determine how much, if any, of the pipeline system can be salvaged. "It's really very simple," he said. "The system needs repair."

Glendale officials and their consultants said it is too soon to know whether the sports complex can ever be restored at Scholl Canyon. "It will require considerable maintenance on an ongoing basis," Mandeville said. "It will be up to the city to decide."

Only about half a dozen or so golf courses have been built on closed landfills in the state, according to Chris Peck, a spokesman for the California Waste Management Board in Sacramento. So far, none of those have experienced the extent of problems manifested at Scholl, he said.

The Glendale City Council on Tuesday suspended indefinitely a contract with CCA Silband Sports Corp. of Encino, which has operated the Scholl sports complex for four years. City officials said they will have to wait for preliminary studies, which will take at least two weeks, to determine what to do with the operational contract.

'We Sympathize'

Jeff Silverstein, president of CCA Silband, said: "The city has worked very hard to try to remedy the situation at Scholl Canyon. We sympathize with their situation." He said the corporation operates 30 golf centers throughout the United States, but the Glendale facility is the only course it manages that is built on a landfill. "Whether it will reopen or not, we don't know," he said.

State and local waste management officials said methane forms naturally at all landfills as trash and debris decomposes. But they said they do not know of an incident in which concentrations of the gas posed the danger of explosion threatened at Scholl Canyon.

The leaks have been detected at various locations around the golf course. Traces of methane have also been found near the clubhouse and at 10 nearby tennis courts that are not built directly atop the landfill, which indicates the gas is migrating, said Kerry Morford, assistant public works director.

The closure was ordered because officials believe that the gas in areas "could ignite--maybe a foot above the ground--if someone was carrying a cigarette or tossed a match," Morford said.

He said the gas migration poses no immediate danger to nearby homes or to the heavily used ball fields located south of the sports complex. "The ball fields are clean. We have found no significant emissions," Morford said.

City officials also met late Tuesday with members of the Glenoaks Canyon Homeowners Assn. "to allay any concerns they might have about public health," Morford said.

Mandeville said his firm alerted the city to potential dangers after extensive tests of the gas collection system at Scholl indicated "that the system is not functioning as it should. There are indications of enough potential problems that the gas is of real concern to the city."

Mandeville said the most significant factor at Scholl is the extreme depth of the canyon landfill, where trash is piled more than 245 feet deep in some areas. Mandeville and state officials said the natural process of compaction as trash decomposes can cause the surface of landfills to shift and collapse by as much as 30% over a period of 20 years or more.

The Scholl Canyon sports complex was built in 1981 on a fill area that was closed in 1974. The constantly changing contours of the site, which varies in elevation by as much as 70 feet, has been a constant problem to the city ever since, officials said.

Bursts of Flame

Golfers and employees at Scholl Canyon have long told stories about occasional bursts of flames appearing on the course, but those reports have never been documented, according to city officials.

State officials also dispute the accuracy of a story that a concert-goer in Northern California ignited a fire when he lit a cigarette while sitting on the ground at a public amphitheater built on top of a landfill.

Nevertheless, Glendale officials said the warning from consultants was worth heeding. "It is a technical issue," said Nello Iacono, Glendale parks and recreation director. "We have unacceptable levels of methane gas and they are of a concern to us. We felt the best action we could take at this point was to close the golf course until we determine the scope of the problem."

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